Sign Language Interpretation For Theatre, Music Growing

04 Sep 2015, by Auslan Stage Left in Articles

This article was originally published by Rebecca Thiele on WMUK.


On Friday, Misti Ryefield and Kathleen Robertson of Grand Rapids will interpret for the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre‘s production of My Fair Lady. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Ryefield says these days more deaf people are asking for interpreters for musicals and concerts.


“One possible reason that traditionally deaf people haven’t been interested in music is because they haven’t been able to see it. They haven’t been able to have a good translation of not just the words, but the meaning behind the words and how that fits in with the music and how that fits in with the context of the music,” says Ryefield.


“That type of service is expanding. So more deaf people are getting a chance to actually experience the music instead of just assuming that it’s a hearing thing and one more thing that separates the communities.”


The Bureau of Labor Statistics says within the next few years, sign language interpreting is expected to grow significantly because of video chat services like Skype. But Kathleen Robertson says not every interpreter can do plays and musicals. You have to be able to be as expressive as the actors themselves.


“You have to give a physical characterization rather than a vocal one and that helps the deaf people track which character is speaking on stage,” says Robertson.


On the other hand, Robertson says you don’t want to overshadow the actors. She says she’ll often look at or “throw focus” to the action that’s happening on stage.


“Like if someone is obviously sobbing on stage, look at it. Don’t look at me, they’re crying,” says Robertson laughingly.


But what about My Fair Lady? How do you translate a musical that’s all about pronunciation?


Ryefield is interpreting for the character Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl taking speech lessons to sound more like a lady. She says she’ll probably start out using American sign language and then slowly switch to a more English style of signing.


“Traditionally English people are portrayed as more stiff and shoulders back and standing up straight, where she probably is going to have more of a slouchy type of posture for…especially in the beginning. As she makes her transformation that physicality may change as well,” says Ryefield.


Even though ASL interpretation for live entertainment is growing, Robertson says many theatres don’t know how to bring in deaf audiences.


“[Deaf people will] go if they know and trust the interpreter that’s doing the work. So you kind of have to set up those lines of communication and that development of trust that they know, ‘Yes, that’s a good interpreter. I’ll go,’” says Robertson. “And you have to have the interpreter first before they’ll buy the tickets, usually.”


Robertson says if a theatre does get a request for an interpreter, often the theatre doesn’t know how to find one. The Michigan Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing has a list of interpreters in the state.

“So if they get a request they’re required to provide, but there are some theatres that are willing to provide. And that’s always exciting to work with them,” says Ryefield.

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